Great Getaways

Maximize the fun and relaxation while minimizing the travel time
Maximize the fun and relaxation while minimizing the travel time

There’s an old chestnut that goes something like “getting there is half the fun.” These days, unless you’ve got the Gulfstream fueled and ready to go on the tarmac, getting there (and back) is pretty much zero fun, while eating into precious vacation time with a day or two of aggravation, boredom and expense. Why not ditch the airport and enjoy a getaway instead? We’re highlighting four road trips that offer relaxation (or a little excitement, if that’s what you’re after) in a long weekend. Head to the coast and choose from the 15 beach communities of south Walton County. Pack up the car and take a drive to our neighbors to the north and enjoy the Southern hospitality of Barnsley Gardens Resort or the natural beauty of Callaway Gardens. Or, grab the kids and head south to Central Florida’s newest theme park, Legoland.

You’ve probably had your share of weekend getaways to a nearby beach or theme park. But many Tallahasseans have yet to take advantage of the beauty of Callaway Gardens. Looking for something within a day’s drive that would leave time for relaxing and exploring nature, my family and I headed north to Pine Mountain, Ga., to experience the beauty of our neighbor to the north’s great outdoors.

Callaway Gardens, a sprawling piece of the beautiful Georgia countryside in the Appalachian Mountains, is home to the world’s largest azalea display, one of North America’s biggest butterfly conservatories and the vegetable garden where PBS’ “The Victory Garden” is filmed. This Georgia retreat is the perfect place to celebrate spring.

Within the 13,000 acres of world-famous Callaway Gardens, you can bike along 10 miles of tree-canopied nature trails in the Discovery Bicycle Trail (bring your own bikes or rent them onsite), examine a thousand delicate, winged beauties in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, plant one of the 700 varieties of crops harvested in Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden and relax among 3,400 hybrid azaleas in the 40-acre Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl (April is prime time for the azalea bloom). Learn about owls, bald eagles, falcons and hawks in the hands-on Birds of Prey show, and explore five acres of exotic and indigenous plants in the John A. Sibley Horticulture Center.

Also inside Callaway Gardens is the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. Usually the first stop for guests, the center features an overview of all there is to see and do in Callaway Gardens and houses an education wing, museum and exhibit hall, and gift shop.

A short walk away is the Tree-Top Adventure, a ropes course offering a chance to take your love of nature to new heights with ziplines and other aerial challenges. A little farther is the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. Reminiscent of a 16th Century Gothic chapel, it is constructed of fieldstone quartz and features stained glass windows depicting the various seasons of a Southern forest, as well as a custom-built pipe organ. If you get lucky, the organist may be there and play tranquil tunes as you meditate or pray in the rustic chapel.

We stayed at the beautiful Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott. With its soft brown and green hues, The Lodge and Spa is the only four-diamond, upscale accommodation in Callaway Gardens. It offers guests a unique experience, along with Marriott reward perks.

The Lodge and Spa’s 150 LEED-certified guest rooms and suites feature four-fixture bathrooms with all-natural spa products, a mini fridge, a work station, complimentary wireless Internet and a balcony overlooking gorgeous landscapes. The resort is environmentally friendly, with shampoo, conditioner and body wash in pumps installed in the shower stall — saving 120,000 of those tiny bottles per year.

The Lodge was designed to keep in harmony with nature, blending the exquisite beauty of nature with good ’ole Southern hospitality. The lobby, with a cozy fireplace and Craftsman-style exposed beams, fieldstone accents and hardwood floors, offers an elegant interpretation of a traditional mountain lodge in the Appalachian foothills. And the heated pool maintains a warm temperature all year long. The stellar staff is friendly and accommodating; we never even had to open a door.

The Lodge and Spa’s Piedmont Grille is designed with earth tones and massive windows to create a dine-with-nature experience. The menu changes seasonally, offering a seafood buffet one night and farm-to-fork meals another.  

I took a couple of hours off from family time by visiting The Lodge’s Spa Prunifolia. I was in heaven after my Swedish massage, the spa’s 80-minute signature treatment combining therapeutic Swedish massage with the benefits of natural herbs. It also offers its guests complimentary access to the oversized fitness center, but with all the hiking we’d been doing, I figured I’d gotten in a good workout already.

If you’re a golfer, check out Twin Oaks Golf Practice Facility, one of the nation’s top-rated courses by Golf Digest, with meticulously maintained holes and more than 26 acres of play space.

Offsite, the Country Kitchen at Callaway Gardens, a restaurant overlooking a spectacular view of mountains miles away, is a great place to enjoy some good country cooking, including fresh-baked cornbread and biscuits, and sweet iced tea served in mason jars. At the country store within the restaurant, we picked up a few jelly jars to bring home as gifts.

Though spring is ideal for a visit to Callaway Gardens, you’ll want to come back at Christmastime to see the Fantasy in Lights. Voted one of the “Top 10 Places to see Holiday Lights” by National Geographic, this light display is a cheerful collection of dazzling lights and holiday music to tell the enchanted stories of  “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “Swan Lake,” among others.  

Be sure to stop by Roosevelt’s Little White House State Historical Site — it’s about a 20-minute drive from Callaway — where the president enjoyed many a summer at his quaint home with modest furnishings. He died of a stroke while having his portrait painted in his den. One mile away is the Roosevelt Warm Springs self-guided tour and Historic Pools Museum, where Roosevelt and others stricken with polio would rehabilitate in the natural 88-degree waters that originate 3,800 feet below the earth’s surface and were thought to cure a number of illnesses.

There are plenty of quaint shops and boutiques in nearby Warm Springs Village, offering shoppers antiques, crafts, collectibles, homemade jarred foods and more.

Getting There

Time: Less than 4 hours

Distance: 200 miles

For more information:

Pine Mountain Tourism and Visitors Information Center (800) 441-3502

Luxury Meets Nature

North Georgia’s Historic Barnsley Gardens Resort Serves Up Fun

By Rosanne Dunkelberger

There are certain things you expect at a luxury mountain resort — fresh air, well-appointed accommodations, beautiful views, a variety of outdoor activities, good food and an attentive staff, to name a few.

But when the resort’s employees include folks with the titles of Fairy Godmother, Wine Snob and Resident Historian, you know you’re in for an idyll that’s ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary.

You’ll find them all and more at Barnsley Gardens Resort, about an hour’s drive north of Atlanta in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Offering an off-the-beaten-path respite, the resort is charming and luxurious, combining a fascinating historical property with all the modern comforts.

The property’s modern history began in the early 1840s, when Godfrey Barnsley, an expatriate Englishman and successful shipping magnate from Savannah, bought up land for an estate he would call Woodlands. He began work on an impressive Italian-style brick manor house to serve as a wilderness retreat for his wife, Julia, who was in ill health. She would die before the home was complete — and that’s just the beginning of a Southern Gothic family tale that includes ghostly spirits, Union occupation, a tornado and fratricide.

Today, the manor house is a ruin, albeit a very picturesque one. The original boxwoods have been groomed to recreate the original knot-like pathways of the parterre garden and the vine-covered, roofless brick building and its grounds are the site of weddings, parties and romantic dinners pour deux. Next to the manor is the “kitchen” building, used as the family’s living quarters after a tornado blew the roof off the big house in 1906. It now houses a collection of artifacts that tell the story of the Barnsley family throughout the years. But for the full story, you’ll want to invest in “Barnsley Gardens at Woodlands, The Illustrious Dream,” written by that Resident Historian Clent Coker.

The property, once a showplace with spectacular gardens and luxurious furnishings, was never quite the same after the Civil War. (Although it did gain some renown for its manufacture of bootleg liquor.) After being ransacked by Union soldiers, family fortunes went into a decline and it was sold off in the 1940s. It went to seed until 1988 when Bavarian Prince Hubertus Fugger bought the land and sought to bring back those glory days, first by opening it as a historic site, then turning it into a luxury resort. The prince sold out a few years ago, and his successor has continued improving the property.

The manor ruin now overlooks a “village” of lodgings that include private rooms, suites and cottages as well as restaurants, a town hall and meeting rooms. Although new, from the outside each building has the antique look of an English village. Inside, each accommodation is individually decorated, giving guests the sense of being an honored recipient of Southern hospitality. It’s a wonderful mix of the old (porch swings, wood-burning fireplaces, armoires and claw-foot tubs) along with all the modern amenities (WiFi, comfy beds, rain showers). And the resort is pet friendly.

One can stroll around on the resort’s paved pathways or venture off and enjoy its fabulous gardens and trails. Godfrey Barnsley collected roses and, in a nod to his interests, the resort is now home to 150 varieties of antique roses, including a pink climbing variety that forms a fragrant and romantic arbor.

But roses aren’t the only flora to be enjoyed. Barnsley planted a conifer garden that features beautiful specimens, and there were banks of iris and a wildflower meadow in bloom during a May visit, which is the peak of the flower season. September/October is best for autumnal leaf peeping.

You might think that with all the flowers, bowers, water vistas and secluded nooks, Barnsley Gardens is a romantic place. You’d be right. Scores of proposals, weddings and anniversary celebrations happen here every year. And the person who helps make them happen is Denise Webb, Barnsley’s very own Fairy Godmother.

If you’ve got a romantic wish, she’ll help you make it come true. If you’re without inspiration, don’t worry, the Fairy Godmother can create all sorts of magic. Maybe she’ll pack a picnic lunch and point you to a romantic corner of the property. If you’re planning to pop the question, the Fairy Godmother can prepare your pathway with flower petals, stash a pillow for when you get down on one knee and have the champagne on ice nearby for after she says, “Yes!”

One of Webb’s favorite tasks is creating romantic adventures she calls “love spells.” While a couple is elsewhere, she and her minions transform — with food, flowers, candles, decorations and more — their room into something that most definitely will put them in the mood for love.

The resort offers three dining choices, the super-casual outdoor Beer Garden, three meals a day in the clubby environs of The Woodlands Grill or a fine dining experience at the historical Rice House restaurant.

Barnsley Gardens also features plenty of other activities to enjoy.

The resort is home to a full-service, European-style spa offering a complete menu of face and body treatments, including some that incorporate the fragrance of the garden’s signature flower, the rose.

One of the resort’s most popular attractions is “The General,” a par-72 golf course designed by Jim Fazio. It picturesquely blends with the mountains and offers elevation changes that make it a challenge for golfers of all skill levels.

The 1,300-acre SpringBank Plantation is the resort’s own historic hunting preserve, with half-day, full-day and overnight trips available. Deer and turkey hunting is available, and the preserve is internationally renowned for its quail and pheasant hunting during the October–March season. Or, improve your shooting skills at the Wings and Clay Shooting School.

Guided horseback rides are available as well as fishing and paddling at the resort’s ponds and lake. The resort’s open spaces can also be used for paintball, disc golf and a variety of lawn games.

Getting There

Time: 6 hours

Distance: 342 miles

Get onto Interstate 75 via Tifton or Cordele and travel north through Atlanta. Take exit 306 and travel left toward Adairsville/Summerville on GA 140. Turn left onto Hall Station Road (there are signs directing you to Barnsley Gardens), and then turn right onto Barnsley Gardens Road and travel until you reach the resort entrance.

597 Barnsley Gardens Road

Adairsville, GA 30103

(877) 773-2447

South Walton

These Coastal Communities Have Whatever You’re Looking for at the Beach

By Rosanne Dunkelberger

What’s your idea of a great time at the beach?

Quality time sunning in the lounge chair? Long, secluded walks along the waterline? Exciting nightlife and superb dining? An expansive resort with fun for every member of the family?

The 15 beach communities along the 26-mile South Walton coast offer a wide array of experiences. Take the family to a larger resort, and it’s quite possible to park the car when you arrive and forget about it until it’s time to leave. In addition to sand and surf fun, Sandestin has miles of bike trails, playgrounds, shopping, kayaking and other water sports, restaurants and a full calendar of special events.

Or, base yourself in a more eclectic community such as Grayton Beach or Dune Allen and find amusements as you hopscotch along 30A — a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich served from a classic Airstream trailer at Meltdown on 30A in Seaside, a visit to 2011 Artist of the Year Allison Wickey’s World Six Gallery in Rosemary Beach, a complimentary (tip, please) rickshaw ride courtesy of 30A Coastal Cruisers.

While cruising the highway in your car is enjoyable, seeing the sights on a bicycle can turn the ride into an all-day adventure. Ride the length of the paved, 19-mile-long Timpoochee Trail or visit a community or two at a time. If you need a little help trying to figure out where to begin, the Scenic 30-A website ( includes a Virtual Bike Tour. You’ll find a history of each community and sights of interest as well as 200 photos of what you can expect to see along the way.

No bike? No problem! There are rental companies along the beachfront with bikes for every member of the family, including beach cruisers, mountain bikes, tri-wheels, pint-sized bikes with training wheels and baby seats and trailers. Sunny Days in Santa Rosa Beach will even deliver your rental to your door.

The ideal place for a romantic getaway is the still-growing Alys Beach community. Driving past the sculptural entrance, you realize with its blinding-white houses contrasting with the occasional green lawn — this place is different. From a distance, the community looks very simple, but Alys Beach is the result of painstaking planning. Its walkways are oriented to capture the coastal breezes, and a stroll hand-in-hand with your sweetheart offers pleasant surprises. It’s fun to peek through open doorways to see often very colorful island-style courtyards reminiscent of Bermuda or Antigua. Homeowners there participate in a particularly charming tradition: Outside of most homes is a “gift” to the community. It might be a small fountain, a vine-covered pot or even a whimsical stone divan.

The 7,200-square-foot Caliza Pool will carry you away with its Morocco-meets-South Beach vibe that includes billowing sunshades, hammocks and secluded cabanas perfect for a romantic tete a tete. The pool deck is surrounded by the Caliza Restaurant, just the spot for an alfresco dinner. If you’re looking for a more casual bite, stroll on over to 30A and hang out at the beachy George’s at Alys Beach and choose between their healthful “Behave” menu or the heavy-on-the-fried-food “Misbehave” choices.

Alys Beach’s white walls become the canvas for a spectacular art show during Digital Graffiti. Drawing digital artists from around the world, it has grown to be a two-day event, set this year for June 8–9.

Whether it’s Mom, Dad and a couple of youngsters, or a full-blown family reunion, the WaterColor Inn and Resort is a great place to visit. The Inn features 60 luxurious hotel-style rooms, designed to capture beautiful Gulf views — even from the shower! But for a large group or a more home-like experience, there are also villas and homes for rent.

There are the typical beach amenities — sand, surf, pool — as well as access to Western Lake at The BoatDock. It’s the perfect place to learn stand-up paddle boarding, or sign up for an ecotour via kayak, YOLO board, YOLO-yak (a combo of YOLO and kayak) or canoe. Master Naturalist Murray Balkcom of Walco Eco Tours helps you see what may not be obvious at first glance. For example, he points out ghost crab tracks and shows that what at first glance look like scrubby bushes are actually the tip tops of live oak and magnolia trees almost completely covered by sand dunes.

Be sure to set aside an afternoon for a visit to the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center on Highway 20 East near Freeport. During the week, its purpose is to bump up the environmental knowledge of students prepping for the FCAT, but this fabulous resource is open every Saturday (and on Fridays and Sundays in the summer). Kids will have fun with the hands-on exhibits — including a gopher tortoise hole they can crawl through and a jump-on “piano” where they can play a symphony of animal sounds. Offerings also include lectures and live animal show-and-tells.

Base yourself in a Rosemary Beach loft or at the Vera Bradley Inn by the Sea in Seaside and eat your way up and down the coastline. Many of the chefs in upscale restaurants serve locally sourced food, but new Chef Wayne Alcaide, chef de cuisine at WaterColor’s Fish Out of Water restaurant, takes the practice to its highest level. On a recent evening, patrons were able to enjoy a filet of not-often-available cobia procured from a local sport fisherman.

It’s a given that one of the area’s newest upscale eateries, V Restaurant in Seagrove Beach, boasts a menu full of creative, fresh plates prepared by the talented Chef David Cunningham. What makes this experience extra-special is the venue, a new space decorated in sea glass shades of aqua and turquoise with indoor and outdoor dining for dinner and Sunday brunch. No reservations, though, so come early or be ready to spend some quality time in the bar.

For ultra-casual dining in Santa Rosa Beach, try the Smiling Fish Café in the Gulf Place center. In addition to good food, there’s great entertainment in the form of people watching when you dine on the patio. Gulf Place is also home to Restaurant Fire, which features seasonal fine, but casual, dining for breakfast and lunch and an amazing brunch.

The name doesn’t sound too appetizing, but Stinky’s Fish Camp, also in Santa Rosa Beach, is the place to go for breakfast and great po’boys. You’ll also find Basmati’s here, which features great drink special during Happy Hour and best sushi on 30A.

Feel free to stay awhile at La Crema Tapas and Chocolate. Its casual attitude, small plate menu and sunny dining room bring a little bit of Spain to Rosemary Beach.

For a fine dining experience at Rosemary Beach, nothing beats Restaurant Paradis. The small restaurant’s wine country ambiance is perfect for a romantic dinner for two or a gathering of friends.

For more inspiration, go to It features an exhaustive list of places to stay and things to do.

Legoland Florida

Central Florida’s Newest Theme Park is a Lego Lover’s Dream

By Wendy O. Dixon

Off the beaten theme-park path in Central Florida, 45 minutes from Orlando, a new attraction offers a chance to explore a fun, interactive playground — all inspired by America’s favorite toy company.

With more than 50 rides and attractions designed for children ages 2 to 12, Legoland Florida includes three roller coasters, live shows featuring Lego characters and, of course, plenty of merchandise stores to purchase a Lego souvenir. This is the second Legoland park in the U.S. (the other is in Carlsbad, Calif.). This park, which opened in October 2011, is a nice departure from the Walt Disney World and Universal Resort parks. A little shadier due to the tree-canopied paths and more hands-on thanks to the Lego building stations, kids can immerse themselves in all things Lego while parents enjoy the park’s scenic gardens.

The first stop for most guests is the Factory Tour, which offers a firsthand look at how Lego bricks are made from factory to finish. As they dive into boxes of Lego bricks at the Imagination Zone, kids can customize a vehicle on wheels, race other kids’ vehicles and attempt to build an earthquake-proof Lego building, which shakes and quakes to test each youngster’s masterpiece.  

The Island in the Sky, a remnant from Legoland’s predecessor, Cypress Gardens, presents a 360-degree, bird’s-eye view of the entire park from a 150-foot rotating platform.

Feel like you’ve stepped back into medieval times in Lego Kingdoms, where kids can ride a Lego-themed horse through a number of medieval scenes, or take Merlin’s Challenge by climbing aboard a wooden trail ride powered by the wizard’s magic.

Miniland USA, a favorite with everyone in our group, is home to famous and recognizable miniature towns from around the country. Stop by Las Vegas, where you can see replicas of the world-famous Strip including the Luxor Las Vegas, New York, New York Hotel and Casino, Excalibur, Mirage, Treasure Island and even the Eiffel Tower. The details are amazing, even featuring a miniature wedding chapel and monorails and real-life sounds recorded in Las Vegas. In Washington, D.C., stunningly detailed re-creations of the White House (including the first family and “first dog,” Bo), the U.S. Capitol building, Smithsonian, Washington and Jefferson monuments are impressive enough. Added to that is an animated marching band which parades in front of the Capitol. New York City features, naturally, the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, the Bronx Zoo and the fountain in Rockefeller Plaza, while battery-operated yellow taxicabs drive and honk in the streets of Times Square. But the Sunshine State draws the biggest crowd, especially for us Floridians. Encompassing the entire state, from Mallory Square in Key West to the Kennedy Space Center and an interactive Daytona International Speedway racing experience where guests can race Lego brick cars, you can spot the fascinating details and wonder how long it took Lego engineers to build it all. Northwest Florida natives can take pride in a replica of Panama City Beach’s Russell-Fields City Pier, as well as the world-famous white sandy beaches.

An addition to the park, Legoland Water Park is coming in May. Guests can wade in the shallow water playground made of Lego-themed water slides, water-shooters and buckets that spill 300 gallons of water into the pool. At the Duplo Splash Safari, toddlers can enjoy shorter slides and interactive, larger-than-life Duplo creatures. At the Lego Wave Pool, families can catch a gentle wave or simply lounge in the sun. The Build-A-Raft lazy river and tube slides are also fun additions. The Imagination Station at the water park features interactive tables. On one, kids can build bridges, dams and cities out of Duplo bricks and test them against the flow of water. On the other, they control the flow of water by creating patterns out of Lego elements.

A must on your checklist should be to get a sweet treat with Legoland’s signature dessert. Granny’s Apple Fries, made with crisp Granny Smith apples in the shape of French fries — powdered with cinnamon and sugar and served with a deliciously sweet vanilla cream sauce — make for a delightful snack.

And on your way out of the park (if the kids haven’t dragged you there already), stop by The Big Shop, one of the largest retail stores in the world where guests can take advantage of a huge selection of Lego and Legoland merchandise.

We stayed at a gem of a property — Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, an elegant oasis in the heart of Kissimmee, about a 40-minute drive from Legoland. The resort has no shortage of amenities most vacationers desire while on a week-long stay. The gourmet kitchen is a big help for those who don’t want to go out for every meal, but there is also a plentiful selection of restaurants within walking distance, including the resort’s poolside sandwich and snack bar, Lani’s Luau poolside bar and grille, Frankie Farrell’s Irish Pub & Grille, Pizza Hut and others.

My idea of a vacation is to relax and rejuvenate at the spa, so I can enjoy time with the family afterward. Reflections Spa-Salon, the resort’s world-class signature health spa, offers a diverse menu of rejuvenating spa services including facial therapies and body treatments. The Pirate Plunge Pool, complete with shooting water cannons, a water slide, Jacuzzi-style hot tubs, tumbling waterfalls, poolside loungers and hammocks, is a joy on a hot summer’s day — even in the cold winter months since the pool is heated to a toasty 85 degrees year-round. And after a long day walking the theme park, the whirlpool tub in the master suite was a delightful respite for my tired feet.

Getting There

Time: 4.5 hours

Distance: 280 miles

Take Interstate 10 east to Interstate 75 south. Pick up Florida’s Turnpike and take exit 328 toward Orlando. Then merge onto U.S. 27 south via exit 289 toward State Road 19/Tavares/Clermont until you get to Cypress Gardens Boulevard. It’s longer, but you can take a more rural route along U.S. 19 South almost the entire way to Winter Haven.

For More Information:

Legoland Florida

One Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884

General Admission:

Adults 13–59 $75 plus tax

Children 3–12 and Seniors (60+) $65 plus tax

Children under 3 free

Lake Buena Vista Resort Villages & Spa

8113 Resort Village Dr., Orlando, FL 32821

Reservations: (866) 401-2699; (407) 597-0214

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